I enjoy watching a great Bible story that is well captured on the big screen. It provides me with fresh vantage points, making me think about things I'd never seen before or previously considered. I've discovered over the years that a new Bible translation can have that same impact.
With the release of the Modern English Version (MEV), we have a trusted word-for-word translation that delivers fresh sight lines through its beauty and clarity, reverence and relevance. While reflecting within its pages, the words of God can speak loudly to our lives and leadership in an "old new" kind of way. As it does, we can effectively equip those we lead to refreshingly see how to apply the life, love and power of Jesus within our current culture that is in desperate need of transformation.
Speaking of the Scriptures and transformation, let me share a story with you:
Earlier this year I received an invitation to lunch with a pastor whom I had not met. As we were seated in the restaurant and began to chat, I could tell we were on the way to becoming fast friends.
He was aware that I lead an organization whose aim is making disciple-makers within the church and among societal leaders. He sensed that I knew something about transformation taking hold in the lives of followers of Jesus. He said, "Dave, I come from a denomination in the body of Christ where the scriptures are highly valued and studied.
"The people that I pastor know the Word," he continued. "They could provide you with overviews and highlights from books of the Bible ..." At that moment, with his glasses lowered to the edge of his nose, he leaned across the table toward me and with great humility and the sincere concern of a shepherd who loves his flock, he stated, "... but I'm not seeing them be transformed."
Take a moment to really consider what he's saying, "My people know the Word, but I'm not seeing them be transformed." Obviously, he wasn't commenting on the transforming power of the Scriptures. Instead, he was seeking how to make sure the Scriptures take hold of people so they are transformed more into the likeness of Jesus.
This shepherd is not alone in what he's wrestling with. Pastors are teaching the Scriptures with everything they have. They're praying and longing to see real-life change take place in those they're leading. Yet, many find themselves frustrated, and some are disheartened.
My pastor friend and I agreed that part of our concern lies with the lack of scriptural engagement and biblical literacy found among followers of Jesus. It's an issue of our time that cannot be overstated. As a matter of fact, in a series I hosted called Conversations with Fathers of the Faith, Dr. Henry Blackaby stated it this way: "This is probably the most biblically illiterate generation of believers and leaders that I've ever known." During our discussion, I noted three consequences that we're currently suffering as a result.
First, we are reaping a spiritually "thin" church, ill-equipped to fulfill the purposes of God in our nation and generation. Because we're not discipling Jesus followers how to engage the Scriptures, they rely on one weekend sermon to fill them. In our natural bodies, one weekly meal leads to eventual starvation.
Second, we have moved away from the authority and power of Scripture, which contains life-altering, world-changing words-from-the-mouth-of-God that are meant to produce the fruit of obedience in our lives. As I was reflecting on Matt. 28:18-20 several years ago, the Holy Spirit kept landing me on "teaching them to obey." I had a fresh realization that Jesus has asked me to teach those I tend how to obey Him out of their love for Him. Because we've not discipled in this way, our flocks don't approach the Scriptures wearing "obedience lenses."
Third, we suffer as a society because the church lacks scriptural engagement and biblical literacy.
If we aren't equipping our people around God's character and ways, we're missing out on a huge opportunity to bless and impact those on the planet! We need to disciple government leaders to lead with integrity, benevolence, wisdom and justice! We must shape those called to arts and entertainment to view the spotlight not as a place of self-indulgence, but rather as a platform for their King. We must do the same for those called to the domains of media, business, science and technology, health and medicine, etc. Our nation's current condition is the result of shepherds not discipling their people to live and lead in society using the character and ways of God revealed in the Scriptures as their guide.
Continuing Our Transformation Conversation
As our conversation continued, I shared what I saw as the other part of the problem, the gap between engaging Scripture and experiencing transformation. I wanted to draw a diagram for him, so with my finger I drew three imaginary connected circles on the table to explain God's process of transformation—the end result being transformation.
I offered a little of what I've learned about transformation as a leader, teacher and disciple-maker. Second Cor. 3:18 says, "But we all, seeing the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, as in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit of the Lord" (MEV). The more we behold God the more the Spirit transforms us into His likeness.
Consider these transformation snapshots:
- A young woman moved from woundedness to wonder as she grasps who she really is in Christ Jesus.
- A destroyed relationship that is restored as the need for mutual forgiveness is perceived and pursued.
- A troubled part of your city experiences profound change when Jesus followers obey what He showed them to do.
Transformation is God intervening to bring His life to bear upon individuals, relationships and communities. We cannot manufacture transformation. Because of my love for people I wish we could, but it is a divine work of God. Like an apple seed, the actual transformation from seed to tree to fruit to orchards belongs to God.
Back at our table diagram, we began to tackle the first circle—revelation. I'm not talking about the last book in our Bibles, but rather the means by which God reveals things to us. It's how we came to Jesus in the first place: He allowed us to spiritually perceive our desperate condition and His offer of love, forgiveness and reconciliation. Revelation is the parting of curtains so we see as God sees.
Let me illustrate further. Imagine yourself in a theater. Perhaps you're there to watch a family member perform as part of a play. You hear the noise of the gathering crowd while you pick out your seat. Sitting in a near-darkened room your attention is focused on those huge velvety burgundy curtains in front of you. You have absolutely no idea what's behind that curtain. As the curtain is pulled back suddenly you have a completely different vantage point as you see the dusty streets of an old Western town. What you could not see only a second before you can see now. That's "revelation."
Consider the scene in Matthew 16 where Jesus asks His disciples who people think He is. Some think He's John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the other prophets come back to life. Then He asks them what they think. Peter pipes up and says, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Hear afresh these words of Jesus in v.17: "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven" (MEV).
Revelation is sourced in God alone. He is the Revealer. If He doesn't part the curtains, we have a hard time seeing where He's leading our lives. We can posture ourselves to receive revelation: Seeking His face in worship, prayer and the Scriptures, through a sermon or in a conversation. When I can't yet see something from God, I have the opportunity to trust Him while pressing into Him even further.
What's the bridge between the first and last circles? It represents the part we play in the process of transformation. Our response to what Jesus reveals to us is obedience. Once again, we entered into our relationship with Jesus by responding with obedience to follow Him, and so began our journey of transformation.
The life of Jesus revolved around obeying His Father. I'm delighted when I read in Heb. 5:8 that Jesus "learned" obedience, as it encourages me that I can too. We see just how central obedience was to Jesus in John 5:19 when we read, "The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do. For whatever He does, likewise the Son does" (MEV). Also, at one of the most intense moments of His life, in Gethsemane, Jesus remained obedient, fully yielding to His Father's will (Matt. 26:39).
Fueled by our great love for Jesus, we are to walk daily in obedience, doing what Jesus has revealed to us to do, in the Scriptures and by His Spirit. When God reveals something to us, it's really not meant to be negotiated; it's meant to be obeyed. Obedience is the engine of transformation. God reveals something to us; we obey Him out of love and trust; He brings the transformation.
Revelation—obedience—transformation: That is God's process.
Engaging The Process of Transformation While Engaging The Scriptures
Without engaging the process of transformation, we may end up with full heads but far-from-Him hearts. A reading plan keeps us disciplined in the Word, but without transformation it can be reduced to a ritual that results in more checked boxes than actual obedience. And, as pastors, the real danger and deception is in approaching the Scriptures only for the purpose of message preparation, robbing us of encountering our Good Shepherd and His transformational work in our own souls.
How can a pastor lead a flock in engaging the process of transformation? I'd like to offer two practical suggestions:
First, experience God's character (Jer. 9:23-24) and discover His ways (Ex. 33:13) in the Scriptures. Several years ago I highlighted with purple pencil in my Bible every name, title and attribute of God so that they'd shout at me every time I opened it up. When was the last time you set time aside to let Him reveal Himself to you through His character in His Word? Don't let study of any kind—no matter what it is—sideline you from knowing the Lover of Your Soul more in the Scriptures.
Second, as you read, reflect and study the Scriptures, make sure you build in time to answer these two questions: 1) What is the Holy Spirit revealing to me? 2) How am I going to obey this in my life? Answering these keeps you in the process of moving from revelation to obedience to transformation.
A few words about my pastor friend. We've continued to meet and now, six months in to our relationship, he's initiating steps toward implementing the process of transformation within his flock. I know it's going to work. Not only because it's God's process, but because he took six months to apply the process of revelation—obedience—transformation to his own life first.
That's the right place to start, and it would be a good place for you to begin as well.
Dave Buehring has followed Jesus for over 40 years, serving as a missionary, pastor and currently as the President of Lionshare (www.lionshare.org). He's the author of The Jesus Blueprint as well as A Discipleship Journey, a proven resource used by churches and leaders around the world to reproduce disciple-makers, and the men's pastor at Grace Chapel in Franklin, Tennessee.
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